RAZORED ZEN

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Naivety: Part Two

Even after the egg incident, my innocence knew no bounds. Paul David told me one day that he could pin a glass of water to a concrete wall. Thinking to myself that I was not naive enough to believe that one, I told him to show me. He just smiled and filled a glass with cold water from the tap and then showed me the big pin he’d borrowed from Mom’s sewing kit.

We went outside to the pump house, which was the only concrete structure on the farm. Paul David positioned the glass next to the concrete and pressed the pin against the wall beneath it. I was watching closely when the pin slipped from his fingers.

“Oh, can you get that for me?” my brother asked sweetly.

Of course, I could. I quickly bent down to pluck up the pin, at which point Paul David poured the glass of cold water over my head. I came up spluttering to see him convulsed in laughter. I wish I’d stuck him with the pin, but I was too naïve to think of it.

I’m not that naïve anymore. 
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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Naivety, Part One

I was something of a naïve child, a trait that my older brothers often exploited mercilessly. Take Paul David, for example. He once taught me to juggle, which I at first took to be quite a wonderful thing. Little did I realize that it was only a prelude to a prank.
Paul David taught me to juggle using tennis balls, and I got quite good at it, although I could never do more than three at a time. One day, my brother asked me to demonstrate my skills and I proudly displayed them using our well worn set of tennis balls.
“Hmph,” he muttered.
“What?” I demanded.
“Tennis balls are easy,” he replied.
“I can juggle three acorns,” I said. “Or three rocks.”
“Sure.  But….”
“But what?”
“Come with me.”
I dutifully followed my brother into the kitchen where he opened the icebox and took out three eggs. He offered them to me.
“Juggle these,” he said.
I took the eggs. They were cool and smooth to the touch, and smaller than the tennis balls. Of course, the eggs would break if I dropped them and the balls wouldn’t. But I figured it couldn’t be that much different and I had lots of experience.
“All right,” I said, and started to walk past him into the back yard.
“No, no,” he said. “Do it here.”
Irritated, I decided that I would just show him. I tossed the first egg up, prepared the second, panicked at the thought of dropping them, and as quickly as that two eggs went splat on the kitchen floor.
Paul David laughed and laughed.

I got to clean up the yolk.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Remembering Things

I guess it's the nature of memoir. A few weeks ago I put the finishing touches on a memoir of mine entitled "The Adventures of an Arkansawyer." It's only been out a couple of weeks but I've already remembered other funny incidents that I should have included. I guess someday I can do an expanded version, but for now I'll just share the gist of those events with my blog friends. Here's one involving me learning how to ride a bicycle.

We didn't have a working bicycle when I was young but there was an old rusted one out back of the barn. The tires were flat and half rotted and the chain was off the sprockets. I asked Dad to fix it up for me at one point and he promised to do so. But I was impatient. One afternoon I pushed the bike up the hill above our house. There was a dirt road there and I hopped on the bike and started down. I had no idea what to expect. It was a wild careening ride, with pieces of rotted tire flying up in my face and me desperately trying to keep my balance so that I wouldn't fall over into the rock strewn dirt of the road.

As I neared the bottom of the hill I began to really panic because the garden was coming up in front of me and there was a barbed wire fence around it.  The yard fence was to one side of me and the barn to the other. To avoid the fences, I tried to steer for the barn, hoping to hit the doorway and land in the hay. I didn’t quite make it. There was a big bramble bush just outside the barn door and some of our chickens were clucking around there. I hit that bush on the bike and hurled myself deep into the brambles in an explosion of panic stricken chickens. 


After that adventure, Dad got the bike fixed up and taught me how to ride it. On a flat road and not a hill.
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Friday, November 07, 2014

A Rare Symbolic Dream

As a psychologist, I often get asked to interpret dreams. My general response is that I have no idea what ‘your’ dream means. For the most part, dreams appear to have no meaning other than an expression of those events and experiences that we are going through at the moment of the dream. In other words, most of what is in our dreams is the same material that is in our waking life, such as the books we read, the TV shows we watch, and the thoughts that worry us.

Most dream material is not demonstrated in any symbolic way but is right there on the surface of the imagery. If there is “symbolic” meaning to your dream, it is generally a symbolism that only you can accurately interpret. It is based on your life and culture as you grew up. The same is true for me. Once in a great while, however, I have a dream that seems clearly to be saying something in symbolic form. Last night’s dream was an example, and it’s pretty easy to interpret, probably for everyone. Here it is:

An astronaut crashes on a desolate planet and walks away from the wreck. The planetary surface looks much like our moon, with no signs of any life. The man is wearing a space suit and is already thinking about what happens when the suit runs out of air. The man is not quite me, and does not look like me, but I feel clearly as if I’m inhabiting him.

Then, the astronaut sees a shadowy figure approaching from the distance. He heads off in that direction but stops as he gets a closer look at the figure. It’s a human and he’s not wearing a suit. He looks almost like the astronaut, but older. This older man approaches the astronaut and stops, but says nothing. His stare is blank.

The astronaut cautiously tests the air and finds it breathable. He strips off his suit, and as he turns back to the older man he is attacked suddenly by that fellow. The older man is slow and weak and the younger man easily throws him down and then backs away. The older man gets up and attacks again. The younger man punches him and knocks him down a second time.

The guy gets up off the ground and stands there. The younger man is ready to defend himself but no attack comes. The young man tries talking to the older man but there is no answer, only the stare. As the younger man relaxes a little bit, the older man attacks again. The astronaut easily knocks the man down again but now dares not relax when the fellow climbs back to his feet.

At this point, the dream began to jump forward in time. I’d see the young man starting to walk away and being attacked, moving to examine his suit and being attacked. Each individual attack was easy to defeat physically, but now the wear and tear of the psychological stress began to tell. The young man could not escape because the old man followed. He could not rest or an attack would come. He dared not sleep for fear that he would be helpless. And now he begins to tire.

In such a way is youth and strength defeated.
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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Elak of Atlantis, A Review


Elak of Atlantis, by Henry Kuttner. Planet Stories, 2007, with an introduction by Joe Lansdale.

This anthology of some of Henry Kuttner’s early work contains the four Elak of Atlantis stories that he wrote, plus two Prince Raynor tales. The Elak stories are: in order of first publication in Weird Tales, “Thunder in the Dawn,” “Spawn of Dagon,” “Beyond the Phoenix,” and “Dragon Moon.” The Raynor tales are: “Cursed be the City,” and “The Citadel of Darkness.” All these fall firmly into the genre of Sword & Sorcery, and they fit well together in this anthology because the characters of Raynor and Elak are quite similar. In fact, Elak just seems to me like an Older Raynor.

From what I had read previously to actually perusing these stories, Kuttner’s Elak tales were written in part to capitalize on the success of Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery works, particularly Conan. There is some clear influence there it seems to me, but these certainly aren’t pastiches of Conan, like the Brak stories of John Jakes. Both Elak and Raynor are far more cultured characters than Conan. Both are from the nobility. Elak certainly has some roguish elements to his character, especially where women are concerned, but neither Elak nor Raynor would be considered a loner like Conan. Each has a boon companion that travels always with them.

In fact, I see more influence on these stories from H. P. Lovecraft than from Howard. All the pieces in this book have clear “elder god” elements, and when I looked up Kuttner on Wikipedia I found that he was a big fan of Lovecraft and was considered part of the “Lovecraft circle.” That’s how he ended up meeting his future wife and collaborator, C. L. Moore, although the Elak and Raynor stories were written prior that joining.

The nice thing about the Elak tales is that they combine the eldritch elements from Lovecraft with the more action based adventure work of Howard. This makes for a fine pairing of elements, in my opinion. Kuttner could also pull this off prose-wise. Although I didn’t find his writing as beautiful or as dramatic as either Howard or Lovecraft, there were some very nice turns of phrase and the mood of the prose fit well with the stories. Here’s one of the nicer phrasings: “Piercingly sweet, throbbing almost articulately, a harpstring murmured through the gloom.”

All in all, I liked these stories pretty well. I understand that Adrian Cole has written a story or two with the Elak character, though I’ve not read them. These were entitled “Blood of the Moon God,” which appeared in Strange Tales, Vol. 4. No. 3., and “Witch Queen of Doom Island.” More can be found on this at Cole’s website.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Common versus Poetical Language

I love poetical language in prose. My favorite books not only tell a decent story, but they tell it in heightened prose, either sheer and lovely or powerful and evocative. There is a music to the best prose.

“The old man has been ravened from within. That blind and greedy stare of his, that caved-in look, and the mouth working, reveal who now inhabits him, who now stares out. I nod to Death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path. The ancient is lost in a shadow world, and gives no sign.” (Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard)

Most of the time when I write, I strive for the same thing. I not only want to tell the story, I want the prose to sing as the tale goes along. However, I just finished a story where I made no particular effort to get the prose to sing. There’s relatively little description. I minimized metaphors and similes. There’s a lot of dialogue. And I found out something:

Constructing poetical prose takes an immense amount of time and work. At least for me. On the days when I worked on this latest story, the word count expanded dramatically above my usual average. And the writing was just…easier. It made me think of another writer whose work I have greatly admired:

Ray Bradbury was a big influence on my writing, particularly, I think, on my desire to write poetically. Bradbury’s early stuff is just so incredibly beautiful that I am often left in awe. Some of the stuff he wrote in much later years doesn’t have the same zing and zest to me. I wonder if he noticed too that it takes a lot of effort to create poetry in prose. Did he finally get tired of the effort? Or did he just decide that a change in tone was due?

I don’t think my discovery is going to revolutionize my own writing. At least not yet. But I will be paying close attention to how this current story gets received by readers. Do readers really care about beautiful prose? Do some of them actually find it distracting? I know story is king, but shouldn’t the king be adorned?  Or is it better for the king to have no clothes?

What say you?
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